SEOUL (Reuters) – The South Korean army said on Thursday it will hold a meeting to discuss whether to discharge the first soldier who has undergone gender reassignment surgery, which has sparked a national debate on the treatment of LGBT troops.
The soldier, who has the rank of staff sergeant and is stationed in Gyeonggi Province, north of Seoul, received the operation abroad last year while on vacation, and expressed his hope to continue serving in the female body said an army official.
The army has not identified the soldier. The official said the soldier was in a military hospital receiving postoperative treatment.
The army will hold talks early next week to decide on the fate of the soldier, as there are no regulations in Korea on transgender troops, the official said.
“We will have to see it as a partial change in the body that we apply to those who were injured in accidents,” the official told Reuters. “We will probably unsubscribe the soldier, as there are different qualifications for men and women to meet to join the army.”
The case has sparked a debate about the treatment of transgender troops and soldiers from the largest LBGT community in the country, which requires that all eligible men serve for about two years.
Gays are not prohibited in the South Korean army, but sexual acts between two male soldiers are punishable by up to two years in prison.
The online portal sites showed a mixed reaction to the case of the transgender soldier, some supported the “brave decision”, while others said the soldier should be discharged and reapply to join the female body if necessary.
Human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have criticized the South Korean military for discriminating against LBGT troops. The Seoul-based Military Human Rights Center accused the military of treating LBGT troops “as if they were criminals” or people with disabilities.
“Staff Sgt is a young soldier who has the spirit of loyalty and service to the country and people who are unsurpassed, and loves the military more than anyone,” said group leader Lim Tae-hoon in a press conference in Seoul.
“We strongly urge the military to deliver a new sheet when deciding to let the officer continue the service.”
Hyonhee Shin report; Edition by Peter Graff